Rings found in the rubble

A man who lost his wife in the earthquake that rocked the Noto Peninsula on New Year's Day says he has found their wedding rings in the rubble of their home.

He spoke to NHK World about his memories of the woman he knew for 50 years.

Ogata Tesshin, 66, was at home with his family and a friend of his son on January 1 in Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture. Six people were in the living room preparing to eat dinner.

The first tremor came just as they had raised a toast with sake to celebrate the new year.

Then came a second tremor.

Ogata Tesshin remembers more than 40 years of marriage and the tragedy he went through on New Year's Day.

"When I looked up, the ceiling started shaking," says Ogata. Then it collapsed on top of them.

Ogata says it took him 30 seconds to a minute to find space around him and move his body so he could breathe.

He called out the names of his relatives in the dark but no-one responded.

Then he spotted his grandchild next to him. When he said "Hey," the grandchild replied. He waited to be rescued, holding his grandchild in his arms.

His son was nearby and responded later. The family was rescued one by one from a gap in the collapsed house. Ogata's daughter was outside at the moment of the tremor, and called people around her to help them out.

About three hours after the quake, Ogata finally made it outside and saw his family members there waiting. But his 65-year-old wife Akiko was motionless on a futon laid in the road.

Ogata Tesshin's wife Akiko

Ogata says she looked normal except for minor facial injuries. But she was later confirmed dead.

"The police say she died of compression, and she seems to have died quickly," says Ogata. "I hope she didn't feel any pain."

50 years since they first met

The couple started dating when they were teenagers. They were in the same class at high school and married at the age of 22.

Ogata Tesshin and Akiko got married at the age of 22.

"Akiko was patient. Everyone loved her. She was good at cooking. She was someone who would always put her children and grandchildren before herself," says Ogata.

She was a mother and grandmother who liked to prepare food for her family.

Her 36-year-old son Tadachika lives in Kanazawa City. He says, "My mother liked to prepare dishes to suit the taste of our family. I miss mom's curry and hamburger steak. She made them for me when I went back home. She was kind to everyone and always willing to work hard."

Ogata Tadachika recalls his late mother.

Rings from the rubble

When Ogata found the couple's wedding rings in the rubble of their house, it stirred up memories of the time he proposed to her.

"I was happy when I was with her, so I asked her, 'Will you marry me?' I was young and had just started my career making traditional Wajima-nuri lacquerware. I was just a pupil and wasn't earning much. I was not quite sure whether I should get married. I understand those were not easy days for Akiko."

Now their children have grown up, and the couple have paid off their mortgage, Ogata was looking forward to spending their twilight years together.

"I thought maybe we could be together for 20 or so years more. I thought now is the time we can enjoy ourselves, but we can't.

"If I could meet her again, maybe I would propose to her again."